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RGGI States Plan For Future Beyond 2020

RGGI seeks to curb CO2 emissions from power plants.
Flikr Creative Commons / Jim.Richmond
RGGI seeks to curb CO2 emissions from power plants.

States participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, are looking towards the future. For the past two years, the nine states have been trying to determine how to clean up power plant pollution in New Hampshire and across the region after the year 2020.

A new set of draft proposals lays out how RGGI might do that. State climate campaign director for Environment New Hampshire Travis Madsen spoke about this with NHPR's Peter Biello. 

How big a deal is this draft program?

I think it’s a very big deal. If you look at where we’re at in terms of transitioning to clean energy and making a meaningful dent in the pollution that’s causing global warming, it’s been leadership from New Hampshire and other New England states and mid-Atlantic states that have basically gotten us to the point where we’re at today, where we’re seeing a lot more wind energy coming online across the country, we’re seeing a lot more solar power, we’re improving the efficiency at which we use energy and I think a lot of the progress we’re making is due to states like New Hampshire that have been at the forefront of creating effective policies to limit pollution and accelerate our transition to clean energy and the proposal the states made yesterday I think is another step forward in moving our country towards a future where we’re relying on clean sources of energy and not dirty fuels that are making us sick and causing global warming.

And under this draft program, by 2030, electric generators in these 9 states will have to reduce their emissions by 30% compared to 2020. How will the draft program go about making that happen?

So the way the program works is that it puts a limit on the amount of pollution that power generators are allowed to emit, and then power companies have to buy permits and the money that’s generated through those permit sales states use typically to fund energy efficiency programs, other types of clean energy programs, or consumer benefit programs that make a big difference in people’s lives.  So I think the program has proven itself effective, it’s been working since 2009, it’s generated billions of dollars for clean energy, and pollution is 50% less now than it was a decade ago.  So everything that the states are proposing now is building on a strong foundation, and in fact pollution has been going down much faster than the states have required it to, and I think we’re likely to see that kind of progress continue in the future, you know emissions have been going down by about 5% a year, and I think the states can continue that level of progress.

In the announcement about this proposed change, this language is a bit difficult to untangle, so maybe you can help – the proposed regional program changes include the addition of an emissions containment reserve, or ECR, wherein states can withhold allowances from auction if emission reduction costs are lower than projected.  What does that mean exactly?

Yeah that’s pretty technical language.  Basically that program is designed to share the benefits.  If pollution emissions reductions turn out to be less expensive than anticipated, which has basically been the case so far, we can share the benefits with the environment and with consumers, so the program allows states to basically lower the cap on emissions, if it turns out that reducing pollution is cheap and easy, which it has proven to be every year this program has been in effect.

Several New Hampshire businesses have voiced support of RGGI and say it’s good for the economy. How is this potentially good for the economy?

It generates money that states use to fund clean energy programs, and some of the most effective programs have been energy efficiency programs.  By reducing the amount of energy we need, we then pay less money on our electricity bills, and then people can use that money to invest in other things that they need in their lives.  So if you look at an analysis of the impact the program had in its first 6 years, it boosted the regional economy by almost $3 billion and created about 30,000 jobs.

So this is just a draft at this point, not yet written in stone, what’s the next step for these proposed elements?

The states will be taking feedback on the proposal at a stakeholder meeting in Baltimore scheduled for September 25, and then based on the input they will receive, they will be finalizing the proposal, I would expect within the next month or so.

Is this something that people in New Hampshire can weigh in on?  And if so, how can they do it?

Yes, people in New Hampshire should contact Governor Sununu and urge him to take additional steps forward to cut pollution and lead the transition towards a clean energy future.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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